A particular pleasure of blog management is when the occasional student cold-contacts me to ask about contributing a guest post. The obvious answer: yes, of course! Second-year MALD student Samantha recently passed along an account of her financial planning efforts, which readers will note features a great deal of success in scoring external scholarships. She lays out a sound course of action for all prospective students:
Earning a Free Degree From Fletcher: How Future Foreign Policy Leaders Can Use Their IR Skills to Fund Their Tuition
On November 18, 2021 I submitted my tuition payment for my graduate degree. This marked the fourth and final payment for my tuition, not a single cent of which came from my personal savings. In fact, the resources used to fund my entire degree actually came from a myriad of scholarship organizations, whose generosity and investment ensured that I will be graduating this spring debt-free.
However, more importantly, there is nothing that prevents another Fletcher student from accomplishing the exact same debt-free diploma. The choice to invest in a graduate degree is a substantial one, and from a financial planning perspective, a choice that is made with much deliberation. Conveniently, within the realm of international affairs, mastering the art and science of decision-making is as much a job requirement as is professional proficiency in a language besides English. What better time to exercise those muscles than in planning how best to fund your graduate degree here at Fletcher?
Amongst APSIA schools, Fletcher is celebrated for its curricular flexibility and collaborative environment across students and faculty. A strong sense of self and purpose is also one of the key criteria that shines throughout all of Fletcher’s academic community. Unsurprisingly, it is tapping into that sense of self and purpose that provides the roadmap you need toward funding your degree.
You know you want to go to graduate school, but taking out loans is intimidating. From here, we can use a blend of grand strategy and decision-making akin to that of both policy-making and strategic planning; both of which are skill sets implicit throughout every pocket of the Fletcher community. Which may be why Fletcher Professor of Practice Abigail Linnington has two whole courses dedicated to honing these skills. To begin framing the problem, we start the same way we would begin drafting a memo to brief a key issue for policy deliberation by a principal decision-maker: After scoping the background of your personal story,
we define the specific objectives, assumptions, and options as they pertain to you the student.
● To get you the job you want.
● To invest in the necessary network-building, hard skills, and soft skills for your
● To gain access to resources you would not otherwise have toward realizing your
● Graduate school is necessary to get you the job you want.
● The job you want will be an invaluable stepping stone to launching the trajectory
of the rest of your career.
● The investment in graduate school will be worth the time and money spent
because it will give you the network and skills you need for your long-term
● Fletcher will provide you with access to the resources you otherwise would not
There are plenty of benefits from going straight to graduate school after finishing an undergraduate degree, just as there are plenty of benefits to taking a job and working for a few years in between. The pros to waiting to start your graduate degree are that you have an opportunity to build some savings, try out some jobs to identify what you like doing and what you don’t like doing, and all the while collecting experiences that will make for a compelling application when you do decide to apply. The biggest con to this option is that once you get started working, it can be a challenge to switch gears and head back to school. For this reason, it may be worth considering Fletcher’s Map Your Future program.
Loans are still a common way to fund graduate degrees, and so long as you understand what the terms of the loan are, they can be a great tool toward funding your education. The pros to using loans are that they can be used to finance as much of your tuition as you wish while you are still in school. This can be leveraged strategically alongside personal savings, scholarships, or other work study you are eligible for if you are applying as an American student. Furthermore, for most Americans, loans can be an excellent way to start building a credit score that will help with other aspects of your finances in future. Something also to be considered for American students seeking to work in the public sector is the eligibility your intended career has for loan forgiveness programs. But it is equally important to acknowledge the cons of loans. The many pros for Americans also has one such con implied: the benefits and availability of loans is not consistent for international students. Secondly, after your schooling ends, there is typically a six month grace period before repayment begins. This time frame may place extra pressure on you to start working immediately after graduation, potentially agnostic of waiting on the timing for getting the job you hoped to get after your graduate degree, simply so you will be prepared to start repaying your loan. Relatedly, it is crucial to reflect on how your future career will be prepared to handle such payments. I highly recommend the Quartz Graduate Degree Calculator to quantify the impact loans will have on you. While the focus of this post is on whether or not
graduate school will make you wealthier, it is actually an incredibly valuable tool toward mapping out your finances.
Scholarships are an excellent option to offset the need for loans. Fletcher itself offers millions of dollars in merit-based and need-based scholarships to incoming and returning students. I highly recommend spending a lot of time preparing and following up on your scholarship application to Fletcher because the program is extremely generous with the resources it has. The pros of pursuing scholarships is that the skill sets of professionals in foreign policy are skills that are always in demand, and as a result there are plenty of opportunities for scholarships. The biggest con with relying on scholarship money is that you cannot guarantee which scholarships you will get, so you must be prepared to apply for as many as possible, while also planning contingencies for if the scholarships do not pan out in covering your full tuition and expenses.
4. Combination of Options 1-3
Options 1-3 are not mutually exclusive. Most students will rely on a blend of personal savings, loans, and scholarships to find their degrees. The pros to this mixed option is that by not putting all your eggs in one basket, you have decreased the impact that any of the cons will have on you. Loan repayments will likely not be as much, personal savings not as depleted as they could have been, and scholarships will have offset the need for the former and the latter as much as they can. The con, though, is that it will still require a lot of flexibility to plan throughout the duration of your degree. If one variable moves to the left or right, you must be prepared to adjust calculations with the other two to make up for it. Similarly to that of Option 3, this requires a lot of contingency planning.
If this were indeed a memo for Professor Linnington, in this section you would transition to presenting your advice as to which option you feel makes the most sense to your principal decision-maker. After outlining the pros and cons of each option, you are now equipped to decide what makes the most sense for you moving forward.
A common theme throughout this step-by-step decision-making process is one central question: What is it that Fletcher, or graduate school overall, gives you in furthering your career? This concerted thinking is not only effective in deciding whether or not graduate school is the right choice for you, it is equally effective in establishing a purpose that you can articulate to be competitive for scholarship funding, moving forward with Option 3.
Scholarship availability varies among all types of identity factors. Fields of study, nationality, linguistic abilities, place of residence, alma mater, hobbies, previous careers… the list is endless. Rather than aimlessly searching for “graduate scholarship” opportunities online, begin by building out an academic profile that speaks to you. Reflecting on the Objectives and Assumptions you have outlined above, even if you are unsure of your dream job, this will be a productive exercise in consolidating your interests to articulate to scholarship organizations. List as many identity factors about yourself as you can think of.
Looking at your list, think about the organizations that stand to benefit most from people like you. What about your list best defines your purpose in attending graduate school? I found that by centering my focus on searching for scholarships that sought applicants working in STEM and national security, there was huge opportunity for financial support through organizations like the Women in Defense Association and the Security Industry Association. Both organizations made major financial contributions to my degree. Lean on Fletcher’s incomparable Department of Admissions and Financial Aid and their online resources if you
need more guidance.
However, finding organizations that present scholarship opportunities is truly only half the battle. The hard truth of scholarships is that they require extreme discipline and time management to complete, because each application is different. It is highly likely that you will have to re-apply for scholarships each year, with most application periods occurring in the first six months of the year. Be diligent in coordinating reference letters, essays, and transcripts ahead of time.
In total, I completed 37 applications for scholarships between the years of 2020-2022. I did not win all of the scholarships I applied for, but thankfully, I won more than enough to cover my tuition. It was nothing short of exhausting on top of the competing demands of work and school, but it was absolutely worth the peace of mind I will walk across the stage with come May. I hope that every Fletcher student, both current and incoming, will consider how dedicating more time to scholarships can ease their concerns about affording a graduate degree. The public and private sectors have absolutely created the infrastructure to invest in you: be sure to investigate it thoroughly before you decide to start your Fletcher experience.
Samantha Hubner is a second year MALD student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her fields of study are in International Security Studies, Technology Policy, and Geospatial Intelligence. In addition to her part-time work with Premise Data, Digital Planet, Global Taiwan Institute, and the Asia-Pacific Center for Strategic Studies, she is also a graduate Teaching Assistant for the Role of Force in International Politics, 21st Century Intelligence, and National Security in the Cyber Domain.